Russell Kelley – Handsome Devil Tattoo Company, Saddle Brook, Nj
Last year, I went back to my hometown of Saddle Brook, NJ, to visit the town’s very first tattoo shop, Handsome Devil Tattoo Company, which is owned by artist Russell Kelley, fellow Saddle Brook High School alum. I’ve been following Russ on Facebook since my visit, and he is an artist who consistently posts his artwork on the social media site. Because he’s done this, I get to see his work on my timeline almost every day, making me a huge fan of his work. His detail, line work, shading, colors, and all-around style made him an easy choice for this year’s “Inked Out Artist of the Year.”
Russell got his start in the tattooing industry over 10 years ago when he did his apprenticeship with last year’s Artist of the Year, Christian Masot, at Silk City Tattoo in Hawthorne, NJ. Russ told me, “When I first got into tattooing, I had no tattoos for the first four years of my career, and now you would never guess that about me!” He also told me that when he was a kid, he always wanted to be a pediatrician when he grew up. He decided this after he and his brother were playing football in the house and his brother tackled him into a wall and split his head open. His mom had never taken any of them to the hospital, so she panicked and called the pediatrician, who stitched him up, and at that age, Russ thought the pediatrician saved his life because he’d never seen so much blood before. So, after this incident, he wanted to become a pediatrician.
Then, in third grade, he was introduced to one of the coolest art teachers that we had back in grammar school, Rich Fuchs, a.k.a. Mr. Fuchs, and it is him who Russ credits with nurturing his abilities to draw. He said, “Mr. Fuchs would tell me, ‘You’re good! You have an eye for it! You can do it!’ and he just wanted me to perfect it. And for me, I thought it was great because I had no idea that you can be an artist for a living. I didn’t know it was a job. I thought it was just a hobby.” Well, look at you now, Russell!
His new love of art led him to the School of Visual Arts, or S.V.A., in New York City, where he would study animation. Not like Toy Story animation, but hand drawing animation because he said that he was against the whole computer animation at the time, but admits, he was wrong about that one. Just when Russ realized that the animation really wasn’t really his calling, the tattoo world kind of fell into his lap and now tattooing is his life. He told me, “If you saw my house, it’s decorated the same way that my tattoo shop is decorated with tattoo pictures all over the place and tattoo art work, and I love it now, but when I first started out, I wanted to be rock star. I thought, ‘Well, I can do this job because they won’t care if I take off for a month if my band goes on tour!’ So, that’s kind of what made me really love tattooing!”
In 2013, Russell opened his own shop, Handsome Devil Tattoo Company, in Saddle Brook, the town we both grew up in, and there was some resistance to Russ opening the shop at first. He told me that the town council didn’t really want that type of element being brought into their quiet little town. Oh, if they only really knew! Russ continued with the charity work that he incorporates with his shop and the element that actually is walking into his shop, he’s shown the town council that he runs a upscale and well-respected tattoo shop. Today, he tattoos lawyers, dentists, doctors, cops, firemen and even some of those council people, which we both got a laugh out of.
Russell and I also discussed the help of social media and how it’s helped his business and opposed to advertising. He felt that posting photos on Facebook or Instagram of the work he’s done on clients has helped his business immensely, but when I brought up the fact that some tattoo artists have been using Facebook “Live” to show fans how they work, he was less than enthused. He said, “Personally, I don’t think it’s a good idea. That’s why I don’t do it. I think that it could show the wrong people how to tattoo like an at-home-class or webinar. So, personally, I don’t think that’s a good idea. I mean with the TV shows everyone thinks just because you can draw, you can tattoo, and that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes I think some of this stuff should be kept under wraps.” I have to agree with him 100 percent!
Handsome Devil Tattoo Company has become one of my favorite shops in the North Jersey region. After talking to Russ a few times about his business, you can tell he has a passion for the industry, he’s one bright kid who is really good when it comes to business, and he’s talented as all hell. Now, just for the record, I didn’t choose Russ as this year’s “Inked Out Artist of the Year” because he’s a fellow Saddle Brookian. I chose Russ because he earned this title. Just look at his artwork. I’ve been looking at artists all around this country and Russ is up there with the best of them, and I will stand by that! He’s diverse in his style, as he can do traditional, portraits, black and grey, Asian art, and his detail is simply amazing. As he said, “I’m a jack of all trades, master of none!” Visit “Inked Out Artist of the Year” Russell Kelley at Handsome Devil Tattoo Company located 201 Market Street in Saddle Brook, NJ, across the street from the 7-Eleven! For more on Russell Kelley, visit HandsomeDevilTattooCompany.com.
Well, I’m off to check out my next tattoo spot! Who knows what state it will be in! If you have a tattoo shop that you want to suggest, please e-mail me the name of the place and whom I should ask for at firstname.lastname@example.org.